Mad Men episode titles have been especially literal this season, haven't they? "Favors," last night's episode, falls in the same naming vein as the previous week's "A Tale of Two Cities," in which the allusions are evident from the start. Can people do things for other people without expectations in return? What's in a favor, anyway? (Plenty.)
The episode begins with an urban-dweller's nightmare. Peggy's getting ready to leave her apartment for work, and catches sight of a rat. She runs out, because maybe the rat will just go away. (This never happens, but one can hope.)
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Don arrives at his office and Roger's there, juggling oranges — look at that, Roger can juggle! — as he tells Don about Sunkist, a possible new client. Also at the office is Pete's mom, who's come in with her new nurse (the Bob Benson set-up), a man named Manolo. In an intensely awkward moment between Peggy and Mrs. Campbell, Pete's mother tells Peggy she's glad to see her and Pete reunited: "I"m glad you both swallowed your pride, if nothing else but for the good of the child you have together." Peggy's eyes water; Could Mrs. Campbell know? "Your son and I are not together that way," she says, and it becomes clear that Mrs. Campbell has taken her for Trudy. But the awkwardness persists as Pete's mom turns to herself. “I’ve waited long enough to experience the physical satisfactions of love,” she tells Peggy, referring to her newfound relationship with her male nurse. Pete, oblivious in his office, is thanking Manolo for his efforts with his mother. "The pleasure is all mine," says Manolo.
Sally is off to do Model UN with her frenemy Julie, and Betty's lecturing her after finding out they are the only two girls on the trip. She's suspicious it's "just an excuse to make out." Sally asks to stay with Don. "You hate that Daddy supports my dreams,” she tells Betty.
At the Draper apartment, Megan is talking to Mitchell, Sylvia and Arnold's 19-year-old son. He's 1A, having sent back his draft card, and could be shipped off to Vietnam at any moment. "He wants to run to Canada," Megan tells Don, who retorts, "He can't spend the rest of his life on the run." It's fine talk for Don, who's basically done just that, unless maybe Draper is having a moment in which he realizes he's done it all wrong? He tells Megan that Mitchell's draft isn't his problem, but he quickly makes it his problem, so maybe there's a little bit of metaphoric saving of his own life, here — or maybe it's that he sees a way to get his mistress back.
Pete, Peggy, and Ted are drinking whiskey sours in a restaurant after having flown to meet with Ocean Spray (a client that would be in direct competition with Sunkist, but no one at the office appears to have noticed). Ted tells his two employees, who are both getting drunk, "This is the agency I always wanted. Ambition, brains, beauty.” Peggy and Ted flirt across the table while Pete confesses that his dad died in a plane crash, and that he's afraid of flying. When Ted gets up, Pete acknowledges that he knows how Peggy feels about their boss. “And he’s in love with you, too,” he says. “You’re the one who’s in love with him,” says Peggy. “At least one of us ended up important,” says Pete, whose existential crisis is spiraling. "Please don’t tell you you pity me, because you really know me.” “I do,” says Peggy, who goes on to tell him of his mom's sexy confession. As they laugh, Ted returns, and looks a little bit jealous.
Dr. Rosen, pale and concerned, has come to the Drapers, and he and Don go out to the bar, where Arnold tells Don that something's been wrong with Sylvia "all year." She's been lying about little things — including the person sitting right across the table, as we and Don and not Rosen, not yet, are fully aware. They talk about Mitchell and there's a shift from Don's earlier conversation with Megan. “War is wrong,” he says. “I’m sure he’s a good kid.” “The best,” says Arnold, stricken.
There's a glimpse into Ted's home life, which seems just as stable and normal as Ted himself. That is to say, not exactly euphoric, but his wife has a conversation with him that's without the daggers, anger, or manipulation of a Betty-Don or a Megan-Don fight. She's upset that he's working too much, but also that he's distant when he is there, and so entirely obsessed with work. “I just wish you liked being here more,” she says.
Don's suddenly on a tear to get Mitchell out of the trouble he's in. He asks Pete for help; Pete suggests Chevy might be able to do something, what with GM's defense contracts. They emerge to an angry conversation as Ted finds out that Don's been working on Sunkist, while Ted's team has been toiling away on Ocean Spray. “Why don’t you join this company and read a memo once in a while?" he yells, while Cutler advises wisely, “I warned you about the memos, the more you send, the less they get read.” “I want my juice,” Ted tells Cutler later. “It’s all your juice,” soothes Cutler, the highest-paid babysitter at the agency. But Don's one-track mind is not on juice but on saving Mitchell. Later, at a meeting with Chevy, he awkwardly turns the conversation to his neighbor's kid's draft dilemma in hopes that they might be able to help. Instead, they are flummoxed, and Ted considers the meeting nearly ruined.
Sally and Julie meet Mitchell in the lobby of the Draper's building, and Julie immediately has eyes for Mitchell, or she thinks Sally should. (Julie is a monster-manipulator who insists on sweetly calling Megan "Mrs. Draper" because she hates it.) In their pajamas in bed, the two girls write a mash-note titled "Things I like about Mitchell." It's entirely innocent, until it's not.
Pete confronts his mother about Manolo, and she says, "Manny has awakened a part of me that was long dormant.” When Pete tells her “he’s a pervert" and that they're going to have to let him go, she rages back: “You’re a sour little boy and a sour little man. You’ve always been unlovable.” Unlovable Pete may be, but more unlovable is the rat that's caught in the trap at Peggy's apartment, leaving a blood trail across the floor. Peggy calls Stan for help, but he's with a woman. “I’m not your boyfriend,” he says, and when she tells him she'll make it worth his while, he tells her, “It’ll be dead by morning.”
Ted confronts Don about the meeting with Chevy. "Stop trying to poison my relationship," he says, "A client shouldn’t have a single negative feeling in your presence." But Ted will help Mitchell, and therefore Don (or Don and therefore Mitchell), if Don stops his own war against Ted. Ted's perception that Don is warring with him may be a bit overblown, at least, Don doesn't seem to think "dropping his weapons" is much of a problem — was Don ever that aware of his own weapons, or is he just acting involuntarily? In either case, he seems surprised and grateful that Ted will help him, and that the guy who taught Ted to fly may be able to prevent Mitchell from being sent to Vietnam. Don immediately calls the Rosens and reaches Sylvia, who breaks down in tears at his news. Suddenly, his power is back. "I hope you know I was just frustrated with you,” she says, referring to the end of their affair. “I do now,” he says. “I didn’t want you to fall in love,” she says. “You didn’t feel anything?” he asks. While she says she doesn't want to go through this again, you know that it's just moments away.
Pete confronts Benson about Manolo, and Benson delivers a talk about love to the "unlovable" Pete Campbell in which it becomes evident that Benson harbors his own desires to make Pete happy. "Is it really so impossible to imagine?" Bob asks. "Couldn’t it be that if someone took care of you, is it impossible that you might begin to feel something for him? When it’s true love, does it matter who it is?” Benson shifts his knee to touch Pete's. “Tell him I’ll give him a month’s pay, and tell him it’s disgusting," says Pete.
In the cab on the way to Model UN, Julie reveals to Sally that she's put the mash-note under Mitchell's door. Sally runs home to try to recover it. And this is where it all goes wrong. In the Rosen's apartment, she sees the note, and then she hears a noise. It's her father and Sylvia, in bed, in each other's arms. Don, still pulling up his pants, runs after Sally, but it's too late. She's gotten a cab, says the doorman, and Don, confused, paces in the lobby for a moment before heading outside to find her. We get a long shot of the doorway in this moment, which is a bit uncharacteristic of the show.
The episode ends with four scenes of home:
- Pete, pouring himself a bowl of Raisin Bran alone only to find that the box is empty. Poor, poor Pete.
- Peggy, smoking a cigarette on the couch and watching TV with her new orange cat.
- Ted, returning to his wife and kids, who are watching TV, his wife having fallen asleep. Pleased to see him, the smaller boy crawls onto his back, and Ted carries him out of the room as the older one follows.
- Don, returning home so drunk he can barely put the key in the door. Megan kisses him, says "Wow," and laughs. Sally won't look at him at all. Mitchell and Dr. Rosen come over to offer their thanks, and when Megan tells Don, “you are the sweetest man,” Sally explodes. “You make me sick!” she yells — this is a far cry from the daddy who supports her dreams; this is a father who kills dreams pretty fully — and Don goes after her again, attempting to explain. “I know you think you saw something. I was comforting Mrs. Rosen,” he says. “She was very upset. It’s very complicated." Sally, who is not new to walking in on adult sexual situations (remember Roger and Marie?) but hasn't had to face her own father's indiscretions in the flesh, and doesn't seem to have suspected they existed at all, mumbles an O.K. and throws herself on the bed.
We get another long-shot: Don walking down the hallway, turning back, looking, and closing the hallway door. (Note that the very first episode of the season was called "The Doorway," and that's not for nothing.) So is Don shutting down one part of his life — or the other — or will he simply continue to ratchet back and forth between closed and open doors? A guy can't stay on the run forever.